Jodie Lancet-Grant introduces her picture book and explains why it matters so much.
It was my daughters’ realisation that our two-mum family was different to other people’s that inspired me to write my debut picture book The Pirate Mums, but they and other kids who have same sex parents are just a small part of its intended readership. I want this rollicking, swashbuckling, colourful adventure (with just a touch of toilet humour) to be taken to the hearts of straight parents, teachers, librarians and all kids whatever their background – whether, like protagonist Billy, they’ve ever wished their family were just a bit more normal – or not.
First and foremost, I am a reader: the kind of reader for whom the world disappears utterly when engrossed in a book; who panics if she arrives at the train station for even a short journey having accidentally left her kindle at home; who has so often missed her stop whilst reading that it’s barely worth commenting on when it happens. I’ve worked in publishing for 13 years and have dedicated my professional life to persuading others to read, too. So it was no surprise that I wanted to instil in my young daughters that same passion for books and stories. Books have an unrivalled power to take us to brand new worlds, to give us glimpses into the lives of people completely different from us, but it’s also true that their power is lessened if we never see ourselves within their pages. This is particularly true for children. As expert and ex-children’s books editor of the Guardian Julia Eccleshare puts it ‘As a reader, it would be hard not to think that your life, or the life of some of the children you know, was not worth much if it isn’t worth telling a story about it.’
Whilst Eccleshare is referring primarily here to the shameful dearth of protagonists of colour in children’s literature, I believe it is also relevant to non-traditional families. I know from experience that kids like mine might actually be told in the playground that their family isn’t valid, that of course girls can’t marry girls, of course they can’t have children, of course you can’t be the ‘other mummy’ in this game of Mummies and Daddies – what’s that? I wanted to write a book which helps shore up my girls’ identity, reflects their wonderful, loving family, and demonstrates that stories can star people just like them.
But whilst my children obviously know that families with two mums and two dads exist, plenty don’t. I’ve experienced on a few occasions confusion from the kids of straight friends when they first realise that my daughters have two mums – cue much embarrassment from their right-thinking adults. Often, families with same sex parents aren’t something that small children have seen before, either in real life, on TV or in books. The Pirate Mums is a way of changing that – it’s a tool for grownups to introduce the idea of different family set ups in a low-key way that doesn’t immediately mark those families out as other. And in my opinion, the younger our children are when we teach them that love is love and that all families are equal the better, and the more effective those lessons will be at helping to create a more accepting world.
I’d like to think that The Pirate Mums does more, though, than represent LGBTQ+ families. It’s also a very feminist book, perfect for readers looking for stories that feature strong female characters. Billy’s mums are clever, inventive, fierce and kind. All the pirates in the book are women. That’s rare; we’re usually only present as one token plucky girl on an all-boy crew, and don’t imagine that the piratical gender split is something that kids don’t notice.
I also wrote the book to resonate with children who worry about their family being different from the norm in any way at all – maybe they speak another language at home, or eat food that isn’t the same as the meals served at friends’ tables. Perhaps they live in a flat whilst their classmates are in houses. There are a million ways we can feel apart from our peers as we grow and work out who we are.
One of my biggest hopes for this book is that it’s taken to heart by teachers. I have thought a lot, recently, about Section 28, where teachers were forbidden from even mentioning anything LGBTQ+. It is astonishing to think that until the year 2000 it would not have been legal for educational establishments to feature a family like mine in any sort of literature. Clearly, as a society we have come a long way in the last twenty years but moving from a situation where it was not allowed to even acknowledge queer life to one where it is celebrated takes time. There isn’t yet a huge array of great resources that children will enjoy to help teachers counteract centuries of homophobia.
So The Pirate Mums is a book for parents, for teachers and mostly, for children. I hope it demonstrates that some families can have two mums (and, it follows, two dads), that being LGBTQ+ doesn’t mean you can’t go on to have a ‘traditional’ family life if you want one, that girls can be the stars of the story, that being different makes you special and that children from same sex parent families are worth telling stories about. Good ones. Stories that are packed with adventure, rainbow cannons, and, on occasion, big beefy captains getting trapped in tiny, stinky toilets.
The Pirate Mums by Jodie Lancet-Grant, illustrated by Lydia Corry is published by Oxford Children’s Books, 978-0192777799, £6.99 pbk.
Jodie Lancet-Grant (nee Mullish) is an award-winning Communications Director at Pan Macmillan imprint Bluebird. She has over ten years of publicity and marketing experience in the industry, and has also worked as a freelance copywriter and journalist. Jodie lives in East London with her wife and their twin daughters.